February 21, 2012

Grace Unleashed

I just finished a book written by a college classmate of mine about her brother's battle with AIDS, his ultimate death and legacy, and her grief and recovery. The book was written in 2001 but her brother died 9 years prior, and so lived with the stigma of his disease and lifestyle choices that, back then, were simply "not acceptable."

The author, Claire Anderson, as well as her brother knew a good friend of mine who also died of AIDS in the 80's. She honored him in the book, and my memories came flooding back in, how he was such a wonderfully funny and bright guy, and how I still miss him. Visions still haunt me of the condemnation, the judgment that my sweet, creative, friend received, not just from a culture that was not quite as tolerant then as it is now, but also from the one place, the one group of people that are to be marked by love. I knew of my good friend's struggle intimately, we talked about it openly together. I didn't understand it, not many did. But, sometimes there are things more important than understanding.

The church of Jesus failed my friend and Claire's brother, acting no different than the culture it lived in. Instead of caring for, and loving, and being on the frontlines of pain and suffering, and showing compassion, instead of all that a merciless, harsh spirit showed up, accusations were hurled that they deserved what they got for their immoral lifestyle. That they should have thought of the consequences beforehand. The same accusations that the Pharisees hurled and that religious folks today still throw around whenever they don't understand something.

Set aside what you believe about the rightness or wrongness or the neutrality that you personally hold for the gay lifestyle, just for a moment. Walk a mile in their shoes. Imagine if it was your son they were ridiculing. What would you want or need from others?  What if it were you, struggling with your own impulses that didn't fit with how you were raised? How would you escape? How would you deal? Would you need someone to remind you how sinful you are? Or would you need a friend?

"Judge not lest you be judged."

Jesus is a friend! The poor, the lonely, the sick, the weak, the societal outcasts, the strugglers were and still are the very people that Jesus loves, that He came to earth for and that He died for. Those are the very people that Jesus befriended and defended when He walked this earth. The woman at the well. The woman caught in adultery. Zaccheus, the deceptive tax collector. People who drink too much and party. Jesus sought them out. He hung out with them.

"They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love."

Not our pity. Not our holy-than-thou stance. But, by how we love each other. 

Through all of the rejection that the author endured, she finally loosed herself from the faith that she grew up with in favor of something much less easy to define and box in. She made some pretty strong statements in the book against God, leading me to believe that what spiritual beliefs she espouses now have more of a universalist characteristic. I was both saddened by this and standing up and cheering her on. Saddened because the Jesus I know is nothing like the one she described, and cheering because nobody should be kept prisoner by dogma that kills and destroys.

Going through the fire, experiencing loss and grieving have a work to complete in us when we pass through them. Suddenly, what's important is obvious to us. We spend our time differently. We think different and live different. Fairweather friends reveal themselves and are hopefully replaced with new ones that are real and hurting just like us or who have been touched by the fire themselves and haven't yet forgotten what it feels like. Sometimes as we walk through these times and begin to emerge on the other side, we throw the baby out with the bathwater, wanting to rid ourselves of any hint of what has failed us in our time of need.

What I was struck with as I read her story was how God loved her and is still loving her in the ways that she can understand and receive. How He brought people to her, gave her dreams and visions and aligned her circumstances that lead her onward. He IS love and it all flows from him, so as she experienced her loss and grief and anger and ultimately rejected the god she grew up with, the real God was faithfully loving her, knowing He would not get the credit for it, knowing she rejected Him, knowing that she had misunderstood Him and maybe always will...still, He loves her. Intensely. Faithfully. Quietly. Anonymously.

THAT is what we are to be like.

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